Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Laurier Fire Department improving regional training with search and rescue hut

By Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget   

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Apr. 9, 2024, South River, Ont. – By September, firefighters in the Almaguin Highlands and firefighters beyond this region will be able to hone their search and rescue skills in Laurier Township.

The learning opportunity is the result of the Laurier Fire Department securing a Quonset hut which is a rounded steel building 41 feet long and 21 feet wide.

The hut is also 19 feet high in one part and nearly 18 feet high in another section.

All the parts for the hut are on site and when fully assembled, it will represent a two-storey structure where firefighters can carry out various scenarios.


Laurier is an unorganized township near South River with only 189 households occupied by fewer than 240 residents.

Its fire department is made up of 12 volunteers including Fire Chief Tim Hollands.

Securing the Quonset hut is another achievement by the volunteer department following the closure of the Ontario Fire College in March 2021.

The college is where volunteer and professional firefighters took courses and worked on fire techniques for decades until the Ontario Government closed it.

While it was open, the province covered the cost of the training at the college.

However, once it closed, the cost of meals, hotels and education fell on individual fire departments as they began travelling to Regional Training Centres (RTC) to keep their skill sets current.

Hollands told the North Bay Nugget the cost to continue this training under the new format was about $6,000 per firefighter.

“Some fire departments couldn’t afford this and just couldn’t go,” Hollands said, adding his was one of those departments affected as well as other fire halls in Almaguin.

But necessity is the mother of invention and the closure of the fire college resulted in Hollands creating Laurier Fire Department’s own training facility on site.

Working with limited funds and donations, the department bought an auto extrication pad which was paved to simulate a highway and included a steel guard rail.

By moving a derelict vehicle onto the pad, firefighters could go through an auto extrication exercise.

And by using two derelict vehicles the firefighters simulated a T-bone collision where they worked on scenarios like rescuing people trapped in the ‘wreck’.

The pad is also used to create scenarios like how to deal with a downed tree, or telephone pole collision or fallen hydro cables on a highway.

The local fire department also secured a C-can where live burns are carried out and the firefighters work on maneuvers like how to attack a fire.

Surrounding fire departments began training in Laurier on a regular basis and perhaps growth of the facility could have stopped at this point.

But Hollands envisioned a larger facility that would ramp up the training several fold and that’s where the Quonset hut comes into play.

Thanks to a $29,700 grant from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC), Hollands now has the money to install a concrete foundation and footings to support the hut.

The township will contribute some funds taking the total cost of the hut to $38,000.

Graydon Smith, the MPP for Parry Sound-Muskoka, made the NOHFC announcement on site and was very impressed with what the small fire department had accomplished.

“It’s amazing,” Smith told the Nugget. “They took the bull by the horns and built this facility not only for themselves but also for the many (surrounding) fire departments. They took the initiative to ensure firefighters are well trained and have the opportunity to be trained.”

Smith called the NOHFC grant a smart investment.

“This will keep the costs down for these departments,” he said. “When you send someone away for training, the overnight stays, the meals, all these expenses add up. But these small departments that run on fairly small budgets can now do this (economical training) closer to home.”

Bill Cox, the Fire Chief of the Powassan Fire Department, was on hand for the Quonset hut announcement and agrees with Smith.

Powassan also runs a volunteer fire department and it’s only a 20-minute ride from Laurier Township.

Cox says his firefighters can train in Laurier and be back home before the end of the day.

He says this beats heading to the Innisfil Regional Training Centre near Barrie adding “The cost savings for the Municipality of Powassan have been astronomical.”

Cox says since Laurier opened its training facility nearly two years ago, his department has used its resources about half a dozen times.

He further says his department will be in Laurier more often once the search and rescue hut becomes operational later this year.

Cox says his firefighters will get ladder training, simulate bail outs from windows and they can also set up interior fire attacks and rescues thanks to the interior props the hut will contain.

Hollands is now working on a cost-per-use formula for fire departments that want to use the Laurier site.

“It’s going to be nominal,” he said. “It’s just to cover our expenses. It’s not going to be a huge profit generator for the township. We’re trying to help fire departments with budgets similar to ours which are low.”

As more and more fire departments learned what Laurier accomplished on a small budget, so did the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal (OFM).

Hollands said a little more than a year ago, two high-ranking OFM officials visited the facility and liked what they saw.

Hollands said he was asked would he consider turning the site into a Regional Training Centre similar to the ones that currently exist across Ontario.

During the NOHFC Quonset hut announcement Hollands told the Nugget he’s decided not to go this route because RTCs require a lot of administrative work and his volunteer department is too small to take on that extra responsibility.

There’s a bit of irony with the search and rescue building that is going up.

The Laurier firefighters are not trained for interior attacks because they are not qualified to enter burning buildings so they’re not expected to train on the hut.

But Hollands says the members of other fire halls are trained on interior attacks and they’re expected to use the facility a lot.

So despite his volunteers not being able to utilize the hut, Hollands is glad his small training site is able to help other communities in this area.

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